Thrills and Chills in the 1959 NFL
By Fred Bobberts
New York Giants
Offense – Oh yes: 1959 MVP Charlie Conerly fired 14 TD passes with minimal mistakes. Frank Gifford adds 540 yards / 5.1 yards per carry, with 42 catches and 768 yards receiving. Reserve QB George Shaw, All-Pro TE Bob Schnelker and a great offensive line round out a fine passing game.
Oh no: The runners fumble a bit. Beyond Gifford and Triplett they are below average.
Defense – Oh yes: Excellent rush defense and excellent pass defense with almost no weaknesses. The pass-defense cards show a vast expanse of open space.
Oh no: They could have a stronger pass rush and more secondary points.
Special Teams – Oh yes: Pat Summerall’s 20-29 kicking season is the best in the set. Don Chandler is a fantastic punter, no blocks.
Oh no: PR defense LG in the 8 spot, weak KR defense, below average punt returns.
Offense – Oh yes: Jim Brown (1329, 4.9, 14 TDs) and Bobby Mitchell provide All-Pro, no fumble carries. Receivers Billy Howton and Ray Renfro are Pro Bowlers. The line features 6s Jim Ray Smith and Mike McCormack. QB and receiver fumble rating of 0.
Oh no: Milt Plum lacks range as a passer, although he has minimal interceptions.
Defense – Oh yes: Even with low fumble splits the Browns can stop the run.
Oh no: Weak pass rushing and low points hurt a suspect pass defense rated Poor.
Special Teams – Oh yes: Punt coverage of -6, -4, and -7. Bobby Mitchell has a 3 spot PR TD.
Oh no: Lou Groza’s worst year kicking FGs, along with extra-point misses on 10 and 11.
Offense – Oh yes: The offense that will win it in ’60 is in place, with Norm Van Brocklin throwing short and long to the trio of Pete Retzlaff, Bobby Walston and Tommy McDonald. Superb pass blocking, and a QB and receiver fumble rating of 0.
Oh no: No runner with an average better than 3.8 per carry, though Billy Barnes did run for 687 yards and 7 TDs.
Defense – Oh yes: Good PR and INT splits support 6/5 cornerbacks in a Good pass defense.
Oh no: Run defense is rated Poor in spite of a pair of 5 tackles up front.
Special Teams – Oh Yes: McDonald and Art Powell can take punts for TDs.
Oh no: The Eagles allow big plays – a blocked punt, long gain on PR defense, a lot of penalties. Paige Cothren suffered an off year placekicking.
Offense – Oh yes: Bobby Layne can target big play receivers Jimmy Orr and rookie Buddy Dial. Tom Tracy ran for nearly 800 yards with low fumble splits.
Oh no: So-so pass blocking, Layne throws high interceptions, and poor depth at RB.
Defense – Oh yes: Average to Good versus the run and Good to Excellent versus the pass, the Steelers shut down scoring. Sixes in all three defensive positions – Ernie Stautner (DL), John Reger (LB) and Jack Butler (DB).
Oh no: Pittsburgh does not force fumbles, and Stautner provides most of the pass rush.
Special Teams – Oh yes: Fine 11/13/17 kickoff coverage, Bobby Luna has no punt blocks, Bobby Layne placekicks well in close with no XP misses.
Oh no: LG on punt returns, middling return game with #2 PR Dean Derby capable of going either forwards or backwards in equal measure.
Offense – Oh yes: Washington ran well, with Eddie Sutton, Dick James and Don Bosseler all fine backs supporting Johnny Olszewski (6.6 ypc).
Oh no: Eddie LeBaron and Ralph Guglielmi had poor years behind very poor pass blocking.
Defense – Oh yes: Bob Toneff had a fine year at RT (6/10).
Oh no: Very Poor run defense and Very Poor pass defense. Washington allows a lot of yards with few turnovers.
Special Teams – Oh yes: Great PR coverage and Sam Baker is an excellent punter.
Oh no: Poor KR defensive coverage. Weak returns, both ways.
Offense – Oh yes: John David Crow, one the few to top 20 TDs combined running and receiving, is a great two-way threat. HB Bobby Joe Conrad can breakaway outside on limited attempts.
Oh no: The Cardinals lost 36 of 48 fumbles and they have a 1-6 QB and receiver range. The pass blocking is poor and the three QBs will struggle to get the ball to Woodley Lewis (34 catches, 534 yards, 3 TDs).
Defense – Oh yes: A pretty good pass rush, with Frank Fuller (pass rush: 12) and LB Carl Brettschneider (4*) 12. Jerry Norton is a 6 at SS, and Night Train Lane is a 5 at RCB. Decent fumbles and interception splits.
Oh no: Even with the 30 turnovers forced the Cardinals allowed more than three touchdowns a game and are rated at Poor/ Poor. Zeros at DT, MLB, and FS doom the defense.
Special Teams – Oh yes: The 1959 Cardinals held the PR record with 548 yards and 5 TDs. #1 man Billy Stacy (TD in four spot) and #2 man Billy Joe Conrad (TD in 11 spot) break big returns. Norton doubles as decent punter, even with a 12 spot block.
Oh no: The PRs fumble in the 4s and 10s. Conrad lacks range as a kicker.
Offense – Oh yes: Unitas stands behind a brilliant front group and delivers to a trio of maxed short receivers in Jim Mutscheller, Ray Berry and Lenny Moore. The runners do not fumble.
Oh no: The running game is serviceable but lacks the punch of the ’58 Moore card.
Defense – Oh yes: This is one of the best intercepting teams in history. The team forces decent fumbles, as well. Gino Marchetti, Big Daddy Lipscomb and Andy Nelson are still stalwarts and 6s.
Oh no: Marchetti is the only effective pass rusher on the front four, as the other members have lost some effectiveness. The Colts give up a lot of ground and air yardage to go with those interceptions.
Special Teams – Oh yes: Good coverages. Dave Sherer punts well with no blocks.
Oh no: Steve Myhra is still a bad kicker, although this season is not as bad as in ’57 or ‘58.
Offense – Oh yes: Rick Casares is very effective on the ground and on screens. The Air Bears are led in ’59 by effective QB Ed Brown, who throws few interceptions while targeting receivers Jim Dooley, Harlon Hill and Willard Dewveall. 7/6 guard Stan Jones leads the offensive line.
Oh no: The Chicago halfbacks tail off this year, as neither Willie Galimore nor Johnny Morris had breakaway years.
Defense – Oh yes: The excellent Bear pass defense is led by pass rushers Earl Leggett and Doug Atkins up front, and depth in the secondary (two 4s off the bench). Perennial 6 LB Bill George patrols the middle with a 5 on each side (Larry Morris, Joe Fortunato). The Bears force many fumbles.
Oh no: After years of being impenetrable up front Chicago drops a bit versus the run in ’59.
Special Teams – Oh yes: Johnny Morris has the 3 spot TD on punts and is a very good #1 KR. Strong plus on penalties and good coverages other than LG at 12 on punts.
Oh no – Brown doubles as a decent punter with a block on 12.
Green Bay Packers
Offense – Oh yes: Bart Starr emerges this year as a good passer, with 11 short right and lower interceptions than the last two years. The running game is stellar with four talented backs – Jim Taylor, Don McIlhenny, Lew Carpenter, and Paul Hornung. Gary Knafelc, Boyd Dowler, and Max McGee are developing as pass catchers. Good pass blocking.
Oh no: To get to Starr you have to play half a season of mistake prone Lamar McHan.
Defense – Oh yes: The Packers have one of the best pass defenses in the set, except that they don’t intercept well, which drops them to “good”. They get a good rush from the ends and Dave Hanner remains to anchor the middle as the lone Pro Bowler on an effective defense.
Oh No: Poor versus yardage on the ground, the Packers can be hurt by teams that can run right at them.
Special Teams – Oh yes: Great return games, with Bill Butler featuring a TD on 2 for punt returns. Decent coverages and low penalties.
Oh no: Hornung’s missed kicks feature prominently in this year’s review of 1959, “The First Season” although he is 2-11 on extra points. McGee is another good punter (43 yds on 7) who has a block in the twelve spot.
San Francisco 49ers
Offense – Oh yes: Joe Perry and J.D. Smith (1036 yards, 10TDs) dart behind the strong side of the line – Bob St. Clair and Ted Connelly. SF does not fumble. Splitting time, John Brodie and Y.A. Tittle will find Billy Wilson short and solid TE Clyde Conner in the flats.
Oh no: The passers threw 22 interceptions and only 12 TDs. The runners do not catch well out of the backfield.
Defense — Oh yes: The pass defense is fantastic preventing yardage, but seldom intercepts. The run defense forces fumbles well. 6s Dave Baker and Abe Woodson patrol the secondary, and Leo Nomellini is a 6 up front.
Oh no: The Niners are soft against the run.
Special Teams – Oh Yes: Tommy Davis can kick and punt pretty well for the era. Woodson is a great double threat on punt and especially kick returns, where he was one of the best in NFL history.
Oh no: Slightly weaker kick coverage than most but the Niners do most of the little things well.
Offense – Oh yes: A group of talented runners, including Nick Pietrosante (5.9 ypc), Dan Lewis and Ken Webb.
Oh no: Very poor pass blocking, and none of the three QBs completes a lot of passes, although all can run. Tobin Rote (11.7) throws very high interceptions even for the era.
Defense – Oh yes: Good to Excellent run defense led by DT Alex Karras and DE Darris McCord, who also lead a great pass rush. Joe Schmidt is a 6 at MLB, Yale Lary a 6 at FS.
Oh no: A pair of zeros and low interceptions hurt a pass defense rated Poor.
Special Teams – Oh yes: Lary is one of the best punters in the set. The Lions have decent coverages, and no blocked punts.
Oh no: No return breakaway capability, and weak place kicking.
Los Angeles Rams
Offense – Oh yes: Ollie Matson joins Jon Arnett and Tom Wilson as solid runners. Del Shofner is still the game’s best deep threat (47, 936, 19.9, 7 TDs).
Oh no: By ’59 teams figured out how to hold down Billy Wade’s production while still getting occasional four-interception games. Still a solid thrower, he makes more mistakes than in 1958. Poor pass blocking, inconsistency mar a talented offense.
Defense – Oh yes: They force fumbles decently and Les Richter, the lone 6 (MLB), can fall on them. Pretty good rush led by Pro Bowl alternate Lou Michaels, RE (5, 12)
Oh no: Average to Poor / Very Poor defense afflicted by a 4 spot LG in SP 3 men, soft vs. the run and 0-rated CBs.
Special Teams – Oh yes: Arnett is dangerous again on both kick and punt returns. Shofner is a decent punter, but has a block.
Oh no: LGs on both coverages, and Michaels is undistinguished as a kicker.